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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Thousands of Charlotte-area students are waking up to a new school year on Monday.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools buses began hitting the road around 5 a.m., ready to pick up their first students before 5:30 a.m. in some areas.

More than 143,000 students will head to class Monday, with more than 150,000 more students starting school in the counties of Union, Cabarrus, Iredell, Lincoln and Gaston.

Teachers and administrators returned last week, and more than 14,000 CMS staffers participated in the Employee Back to School Rally at Time Warner Cable Arena. Bus drivers prepared for today's start of classes by practicing their routes last week.

This year's back to school focus has been on security in the classrooms.

"Everybody always asks the same question, are you ready?" said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent Heath Morrison. "They're coming whether we're ready or not, so we might as well be ready."

Among the big changes:

Security: Specifically, 4,000 more cameras. "All middle schools will have surveillance, and all elementary schools will have surveillance cameras," said associate superintendent Guy Chamberlain. Also among the $20 million worth of improvements: electronic locks, buzzers in lobbies, ID badges for students and staff and panic buttons.

Tuesday's update comes after Michele Gay spoke in Charlotte earlier this month about the importance of protecting students. Her daughter was killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012.

"We had a chance to speak," Morrison said, "and everything she said we should be doing, we're doing."

Stadiums: New gyms were built at Independence and Myers Park high schools, a better track at Garinger, and new stadiums at Olympic and West Mecklenburg High Schools. CMS now has seven stadiums with artificial turf.

Sales Tax for Salaries: Superintendent Heath Morrison he's been talking with the Charlotte Chamber to try and get their endorsement for a sales tax increase that's on the ballot in November-- one that would mostly go to help increase teachers' salaries.

Retention: There are about 75 open positions in CMS. A few months ago, Houston's school district held a job fair in Charlotte, trying to lure away teachers with the promise of better pay. It may not have worked; Morrison said CMS only got one call from Houston for a reference check.

School officials have reminded parents to have their children at the bus stops at least 10 minutes early on the first few days of classes.

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